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Of flesh and eggs: Metaphors of the feminine in Brazilian and Japanese arts of the body

The works of Brazilian women artists produced between 1960 and 2000 bring out the EGG constellation to talk about the feminine in different ways. In Japan, flesh and blood are a strong reference for portraying the stories and silences of women. In the second class that I taught in the course organized by Christine Greiner at the University of Tsukuba (Japan), I think about the relationship in the arts of the body between feminine themes such as the reproductive cycle, motherhood, the domestic universe, and these representations, establishing a relationship between creation and silence, art and philosophy/politics.

In the course Discovering Brazilian Culture, organized by Christine Greiner last February at the University of Tsukuba (Japan), I gave a class on BODY ARTS AND FEMINISM: A BRIEF COMPARISON BETWEEN BRAZIL AND JAPAN. Although feminisms and femininities are diverse, even within the same cultural and geographical constellation, in this research I was struck by the strong presence of representations of EGGS in the works of women artists in Brazil and, in parallel, of flesh/blood in the works of female artists in Japan.

Here, in one paragraph, I list a series of works, produced between 1960 and 2000 in Brazil, in which the EGG appears: Regina Vater, The cosmic Egg (1998), Lygia Pape, The egg (1967), Celeide Tostes, Passage (1979) ), Eggs, Nests (1992); Anna Maria Maiolino, Inter-lives (1981); Inside and outside: Antropophagies (1973)... In 1965, Clarice Lispector publishes the text The egg and the chicken, (curiously or not, in the context of a Witchcraft congress), in which she places creation, procreation or inspiration as something that is born from a mysterious universe, a certain “cosmic unconscious”, hidden in the depths of each person as an individual and collective being at the same time. Here there is a link between creation, magic and silence, which in a way takes the magic from a supernatural place, placing it in the nature of the Egg, which, thus, becomes something “inexplicable”.

The readings of these eggs are many possible and are built on different pillars, but one of them that I can immediately highlight is CASA. In 1968, Lygia Clark created the interactive installation The house is the body, whose center is a large balloon (which one can enter) and which resembles the shape of an egg. Letícia Parente brings, in the 1960s, a series of video-performances in which she places herself as an object of the home, such as IN (video, 1975), in which the artist hangs herself with a hanger in the closet as if it were a piece of clothing, and Task (video, 1982), in which it is literally ironed by another woman. Starting from roots, descent, passing through reproduction, and arriving at the protection and comfort or hiding and repression of the home, the dichotomy love and violence of the domestic universe permeates all these works, encapsulated in an oval shape.

In Japan, I mainly highlighted works by contemporary artists such as Tabaimo, Yanagi Miwa and Yoshiko Shimada. In the works of these three artists, the living flesh metaphor is evident. In the animation Japanese kitchen (1999), by Tabaimo, we see a dead woman on the kitchen floor and a pot of meat that “cooks itself”. In Yasagi Miwa's Elevator girls (photography, 1994-1998), a horde of carefully dressed women in red pantsuits form images of pools of blood in pictorial space. In Look at Me, Look at You (installation, 1995), Yoshiko Shimada brings the blood trail of Korean women raped in World War II, forgotten among the garments of that build the contemporary Japanese woman.

The egg is a closed space, which cannot be glimpsed, but whose grandeur of what it contains is intuited by every being that has already been born. A subtle and silent way of approaching the feminine, motherhood, the womb, fertility and the mysterious nature of reproduction and life. It is worth noting here that in the 1960s, Brazil, as well as other Latin American countries, was experiencing a political phase of repression and restriction of individual freedoms under the military dictatorship that lasted until the 1980s. domestic silence, resulting in an aesthetic-conceptual cloud that hovers over the work of different artists in Brazil, and in a broader Latin American view, in this historical context.

Living flesh attracts and scares. The expressed blood and open wound of the works of Japanese artists contrasts with the subtlety of the egg. But they refer to parallel feminine universes. Unlike the political context of restrictions in Brazil, the 1960s in the history of Japanese feminism is marked by the emergence of several activist groups and movements that, in one way or another, dialogued with the development of radical feminisms, especially in the USA. Abortion, birth control pills, domestic violence, the right to one's own body and one's own reproductive time... were recurring themes in Japanese society at the time. The way of approaching these themes in the art produced by women reflects this radical character.

Despite the differences in approaches to the feminine in Brazil and Japan, from the subtlety and mystery of the egg to the invasiveness and expressiveness of the flesh that bleeds, these two near and far paths meet at a door: sound silence, a certain muteness that imposes itself on women throughout history and histories.

And that already brings me back to a sentence by Judith Butler in Bodies that matter (NY, Routledge, 2011, p. 13), with which I end this post and plant the seed of a new and old, long and essential reflection, research (or struggle) to continue:

“The feminine, to use a catachresis, is domesticated and rendered unintelligible within a phallogocentrism that intends to be self-constitutive. Disawoed, the remainder of the feminine survives as the inscriptional space within that same system.”

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